A Semblance Of Dignity

My cousins husband tweeted a link to this article this morning.

Daily Nation – Twin Towers Jumpers That Americans Will Not Talk About

Very challenging and confronting, and perhaps one of the issues which is sidelined when discussions come up around the World Trade Centre attacks.

The most saddening part for me about what occurred here, is that many people cannot accept the possibility that their loved ones were responsible for their own death because suicide is considered by them a grave sin, which means their loved one will go to hell.

For me, this brings up some issues which perhaps need to be discussed. Particularly by Christians. It’s the erroneousness of our position on issues such as suicide that cause untold intolerable and unnecessary pain and confusion for those who must deal with the fallout. Stigma. Fear. Shame. Just to name a few.

Think about it.

What if someone told you that according to their religion, your loved one was going to die in an eternal lake of fire because they refused to die at the hands of terrorists, instead opting for a demise of their own choosing? Imagine yourself at the top of a burning skyscraper, looking out at what you believe for all intents and purposes looks like the end of the world – what would you do? What do you think God would have you do?

*****

I am a mental health support worker. Yesterday, I could hear one of my clients in her home next door to my office as she battled her “voices”. The “mother” voice was berating her with savage verbal abuses, against which my client was defending herself in a most vehement fashion. There was swearing. There were threats. There was volume. It was very, very disturbing. After about an hour, the client came to the office door to ask for a cigarette from her supply. Once she was settled outside with her smoke, I approached her quietly to ask if she was okay, and if there was anything I could do for her. “Please, just back off and go away. I can’t deal with talking to you right now.” She wasn’t being theatrical – this was no reverse-attention seeking. She had the cement-hard look in her eyes of someone who had just emerged from the middle of a huge trauma. My voice was one more in the mix she simply could not tolerate. I left her to her repose. As I locked myself back into the office, I wondered what it would be like to have your mind be your own adversity, and how she manages to survive this daily trauma. I can imagine that if it were me fighting against those voices, I would consider any hell I might be in danger of fairly meaningless in light of the very likely relief suicide might provide me.

It’s probably much easier to believe that someone who kills themselves will go to to hell if the person doing the killing and dying isn’t you. But what if being extinct is actually more tolerable than the hell you’re in right now?

*****

 

The whole argument rests on one premise – suicide is a sin. There appears to be no real Biblical support for this, although some will argue that the commandment not to murder covers killing oneself. Odds on, the folks who adhere to this erroneous belief haven’t had to face anything that would make them question it. I believe the fallacy that suicide in a sin probably was borne in medieval times, when people in positions of power wanted to stop the plebeian masses taking their own lives before they had a chance to subject them to an inquisition.

It is, after all, a matter of power. Who has the power of life, and of death? We say God does, but we do too. People have the power to abduct and strangle, rape and subjugate, hijack and terrorise. We can fly a plane into a building and God either made us do it, or is powerless to prevent us, depending which side you’re on. For those people at the top of the WTC that day, I believe they probably thought the world was coming to an end, or at the very least, they were acutely cognizant of their own imminent and unavoidable demise. Is it a sin to take the power to kill you away from your enemy? Is it a sin to not want to die a victim of someone else’s stupidity, evil or madness? Is it a sin to choose the manner of your death?

We act as if death were avoidable. We act as if the only good death one can have is the unplanned, tragic, victim death, or the prolonged, painful, protracted kind. There is such a thing as a good death. Way before we came to worship the vain and gratuitous sustenance of human life, regardless of how awful that life has become, people died every day and it was perfectly all right, perfectly sad, perfectly awful and perfectly tragic – but it was perfectly natural.

Death is a sanctity. Let’s not pretend that God wrings His hands as we do because we die – He does not – in fact, we who claim to believe God exists must die before we ever realise that elusive Kingdom we prattle on so much about. I like to believe He is saddened by the perpetration of evil and angered by men’s attempts to extinguish each other. But I simply cannot believe that God would reject outright the soul who chooses to impose a semblance of dignity upon their own death, when often the fact they even consider this an option means that dignity was probably utterly unattainable in life.

 

 

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11 Replies

  • It starts with Augustine, the suicide is sin thing. St. Thomas Aquinas solidified it. However, I am with you I see no biblical support.

    I understand, intimately, the crushing despair that leads to suicide.

    As far as the 9.11 victims jumping to their deaths rather than suffering the agony of burning to death, I’m not sure that that is actually suicide. I think when death is imminent and certain choosing one way over the other is not suicide per se.

  • I too can not fathom a loving God turning away any believer who committed suicide. Obviously, to do so would mean that life for one reason or another had become unbearable. One can often wish to be with the LORD and who are we to know whether that “spiritual homesickness”
    that drove one into self extinction was not finally having the strength to make that transition? It takes guts to launch into the unknown. One’s faith must be fully expecting either that redemption we are promised or total extinguishing of all consciousness. Moreover, a leap from burning to death into the unknown would be preferable to burning to death in a tormenting flame. I believe all Christ’s followers who leaped to their death would be embraced in Glory by a compassionate God. Very thought provoking and very sobering. Blessings. Glenys

  • Jo,

    I’m not sure I can agree with you that suicide (generally) is not sinful. Yes, there is the commandment in Ex. But there’s also the doctrine that we are all image bearers of God and therefore have responsibility for moral, spiritual, and physical self care.

    That said, I’m not sure if the Twin Tower jumpers example is picture of suicide. Suicide could be defined by choosing death over life. Life wasn’t a choice for these people. The only choice they had was how to die. I’m not sure its proper to use those folk in this debate.

    My bigger concern is the notion that committing a sin, even one as grave as suicide, is the only factor that sends someone to Hell. The argument seems to flatten reality and doesn’t allow for a God who, although he is grieved by sin, can surprise a suicidal person by having them awake in his arms. What if God was more concerned that the depressed and imagination-starved person was connected to Jesus than if he or she sinned?

    So, I’m not with you on this post. But I love your writing and I love the questions you unearth. Big fan.

  • Larry said what I wanted to say, but better. The question of whether suicide is sin is a different question from whether suicide will send you to hell. One goes to hell because they did not believe Jesus and trust Him with their life. It has nothing to do with individual sins.

  • We barbecued on Labor Day. At one point the flame rose so high, everyone near it had to take two steps back.

    On 9/11, the fires were so strong, it melted steel. I cannot imagine staying in that invincible heat and smoke. The noise must have been deafening, as walls collapsed and people screamed.

    There is no poetic beauty in this horror. It is just undeniable horror. It is tragedy that renders people silent.

    And when people finally find their voices, they resolve problems in anger, wrath, retribution, and judgment. It takes a great deal of humility and patience to respond in love. I consistently fail at responding in love.

    In 2001, as I watched people fall to their deaths, I can only recall thinking two things, “Those poor people,” and “I hope they do not land on anybody.” These are trite things to think. Ten years later watching the same images, I thought those people were the ones that haunted us the most. They were the ones that showed us immediately how hopeless the situation was–the towers were going to fall. Firefighters could not save them.

    Jesus willingly chose death. That is a marked comparison–to compare those who jumped to Jesus–but it is those who chose death on that day that I spend much time thinking about– what they saw, what they heard, what they smelled.

    Perhaps in choosing death, you help others cherish life. I don’t know. To think that someone died so that I could cherish my own life is also a trite and reprehensible thought.

    I have no answers. Only hope. And with this primitive and senseless hope I have, I cannot condemn another’s soul.

  • I personally believe God to be merciful and cannot believe that he would condemn someone to hell because they commited suicide. Unless you have been on the edge of suicide you cannot imagine the absolute desperations a person is in to want to make that choice. The desperation, pain, empitness, hoplessness and loneliness and despair. How could a merciful God condemn to hell, someone who was so desperate and couldn’t see any other way out than suicide.
    Cindy

  • Dear Jo,

    You say that the whole premise rests on one argument that suicide is a sin. Well, I disagree, sorry Jo. Suicide can be a sin without the insane idea of eternal hell fire becoming a reality.

    This is how I understand it.
    You are either an unbeliever or a believer.
    If you are an unbeliever, you are not justified yet even though God loves you, you are “a slave unto sin”. If you commit suicide well that doesn’t make you a greater sinner.
    If you are a believer and justified by faith, and you commit suicide then you have not understood that you are not your own but God’s and your body is His temple and you are supposed to honour Him with your body and so killing yourself is then sin. However you are saved by grace.
    I believe that our Father, who is not like us but who loves with a superior love is quite capable at judging something as sin but then show His mercy depending on the circumstances.

    You do also write that it is after all a matter of power. But that doesn’t help the argument. Yes, humans have power to rape and steal and so on, that doesn’t make it right!

    I also want to add. I lost a good friend many years ago. He was a tortured soul, suffering from schizophrenia. He hung himself after having gone off the medication that he really didn’t like taking.
    He suffered so much I know he did. Do I believe it was a sin for him to take his life, yes, I do. Do I believe that he will be with us in the future life. Yes, I do. Can I understand that he did what he did, absolutely.

    • Thanks Lotta for your thoughtful response. What I’ve appreciated so much about this discussion is that its been pointed out to me by several people, including yourself, that there is a difference between suicide being a sin, and necessarily going to hell by doing it. The whole reason I wrote this piece was because of the premise that I have been told since I can remember, which is that suicide send a person to hell, do not pass go etc. I’ve been told that suicide means a person goes straight to hell without any argument, or any consideration. I am finding it very refreshing to learn there are other accepted perspectives on this, as I thought the subject was pretty much decided. I’m pleased to learn this isnt the case.
      My point about power was merely to open up the discussion beyond the “God is in control” statement, which is used a lot where issues of death are concerned amongst Christians, and which I personally don’t believe is true. But that’s another blog 🙂
      Thanks again Lotta, as always, so appreciate your comments.
      JO xx

  • If suicide is a sin (and the jury’s out, because often the people who taken their own lives are not in a rational, mentally healthy, state of mind), then guess what? God can forgive our sin!!!!

  • PS and my mum was a believer, so even though she took her own life (and was a terribly tormented soul during her time on earth, due to bipolar and borderline personality disorders) I look forward to reuniting with her in heaven 🙂

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